Estelito Mendoza’s ‘magic’ continues: Dichaves cleared in plunder case

Lian Buan
Estelito Mendoza’s ‘magic’ continues: Dichaves cleared in plunder case
Jaime Dichaves, who owned up to the Jose Velarde accounts, is cleared by the anti-graft court Sandiganbayan even without a full-blown trial

MANILA, Philippines – Veteran lawyer Estelito Mendoza wins a plunder case anew as Jaime Dichaves, co-accused in former president Joseph Estrada’s plunder case, has been cleared by the anti-graft court Sandiganbayan even without a full-blown trial.

In a decision dated October 23, the Sandiganbayan Fourth Division dismissed the plunder case against Dichaves that stemmed from the 2001 Jose Velarde scandal of the former president.

“For failure of the prosecution to present additional evidence to support the existence of probable cause, the case against accused Jaime C. Dichaves is hereby dismissed,” said the Fourth Division with the concurrence of associate Justice Alex Quiroz, who’s applying to be a Supreme Court justice, and justices Reynaldo Cruz and Bayani Jacinto.

Mendoza also got Gloria Arroyo acquitted of plunder, secured bail for Juan Ponce Enrile, and handles the Bong Revilla pork barrel scam plunder case, which is scheduled for judgment before the year ends.

Lack of evidence?

There was never a full-blown trial for Dichaves, who hid for 9 years. He came back and fought his charges and, from 2017 to 2018, Ombudsman prosecutors were compelled to submit additional evidence.

In the end, the anti-graft court did not allow the prosecution to submit for Dichaves evidence that they submitted before for Estrada – evidence that got the former president convicted of plunder in 2007.

Estrada was convicted for plunder for pocketing as much as P4 billion in several schemes, including commissions from the government stocks in Belle Corporation. Estrada allegedly laundered the money through bank accounts under the false name Jose Velarde. When the accounts were discovered, Dichaves owned up to the alias.

In 2017, Dichaves hired the veteran plunder lawyer Mendoza, who successfully got the Sandiganbayan to compel prosecutors to submit specific evidence against the accused.

Prosecutors could only submit the affidavits of Federico Pascual and Carlos Arellano. Of the two, only Arellano mentioned Dichaves as being in the presidential residence at the same time as him.

The 4th division said they couldn’t admit for Dichaves’ case the same evidence submitted for the Estrada case because, according to the Rules of Court, testimony in a former proceeding cannot be admitted against a party who never had the opportunity to cross-examine the witness.

“He never had the opportunity to cross-examine the witnesses and, hence, he cannot be deemed to have waived his right to cross examine them,” the Sandiganbayan said.

Hiding, resurfacing, winning

Dichaves went into hiding while the Ombudsman began preliminary investigation against him in 2001. He only resurfaced in 2010, and in 2011 got the Sandiganbayan to do a fresh investigation.

The Sandiganbayan also said “this Court is not authorized to take judicial notice of the contents of the records of other cases,” adding that Dichaves cannot be an exemption to the rule because of his objection.

With only the two affidavits and a recantation from witness Willy Ng Ocier, the Sandiganbayan cleared Dichaves. 

The acquittal concludes Dichaves’ string of legal victories since coming out of hiding in 2001. First, despite an earlier arrest order by the Sandiganbayan, he managed to get a fresh investigation then secured a temporary restraining order from the Supreme Court.

When the Supreme Court gave Sandiganbayan the go signal to resume, Dichaves and Mendoza requested for specifics, and this strategy ultimately resulted in the dismissal of the entire case.

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Lian Buan

Lian Buan covers justice and corruption for Rappler. She is interested in decisions, pleadings, audits, contracts, and other documents that establish a trail. If you have leads, email or tweet @lianbuan.